It’s been roughly a month, but Bellator is finally back! Not only that, it’s back with a stacked card from London! Of course, there is a downside to that, since folks in the states will get the event via tape delay. That means that spoilers will be out there, and anyone in the states that wants to watch the event happen will need to avoid MMA sites and social media to prevent the results from being spoiled for them.
As for the card itself, it’s damn good. The headliner features the Bellator debut of former UFC Welterweight contender and one of the greatest Welterweights in the world, Rory MacDonald. His opponent will be none other than vaunted knockout artist Paul Daley, in what is a fight that will surely command the attention of pretty much all MMA fans.
Also on the card, former Bellator Light Heavyweight champion Liam McGeary will take on fellow Bellator veteran Linton Vassell in an interesting style matchup, former UFC veteran Chieck Kongo will take on knockout artist Augusto Sakai, Kimbo Slice’s son will fight, and young, electrifying prospect Alex Lohore will return against a journeyman looking for the upset in Dan Edwards.
It’s a pretty damn good television main card by Bellator standards, and here are my predictions for the five-fight slate.
Alex Lohore (11-1) vs. Dan Edwards (14-14)
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Alex Lohore fight, well, he’s really damn good. He’s only lost once, has won seven straight since then, and has finished nine of his 11 wins. He’s got terrific submission skills, and big power to boot. Eight of his fights have ended in the first round, so you know he’s always going to bring it.
Edwards is no joke though. He may have as many wins as losses, but he is still very dangerous. He’s finished all 14 of his wins, including 11 in the first round, and eight via submission. He’s also been finished 11 times, including six times via submission. As a result, although Lohore will have to be careful here, I see him finding a way to win. The sky is his limit, even though he still has some greenness to him. However, I see Lohore ultimately finding a way to finish this one in the second round at the latest. Prediction: Lohore via submission, round 2.
Kevin Ferguson Jr. (0-1) vs. DJ Griffin (pro debut)
Every card has one fight on the docket that makes you wonder what the hell is going on. Well, on this card, this is that fight. Then again, if not for Michael Page getting hurt and bowing out of his fight, this fight would still be on the prelims, so I can’t be too mad, even if there’s about five fights on the prelims that are much more relevant and bigger on paper than this one is.
Ferguson Jr is Kimbo Slice’s son, and that’s literally the only reason why he’s in the company. This is a fight that should be on a regional MMA card at best, not on a Bellator card. Alas, it is what it is. I’ll pick Baby Slice, but I have no confidence in my pick, or for watching this fight to be honest. As blunt as that may sound, it’s strictly the truth, nothing more, nothing less. Prediction: Ferguson Jr. via tko, round 3.
Cheick Kongo (26-10-2) vs. Augusto Sakai (9-0-1)
The middle bout of the main card is a Heavyweight bout between contrasting styles. Even though Kongo is a former kickboxer, he has a grinding style that isn’t aesthetically pleasing at all to the masses. That’s what cost him his UFC career, despite going 10-6-1 with the company, including a 4-2-1 record in his final seven bouts with them. Okay, so maybe the fact that he turned down a four-fight contract before getting knocked out by Roy Nelson at UFC 159 didn’t help, but still, his style definitely played a factor. He may have 16 finishes including 12 knockouts to his credit, but he’s also gone the distance 18 times, including seven times in his last nine bouts, including five straight.
Then there’s Sakai, a Brazilian who’s 17 years younger than Kongo, and has finished seven of his nine career wins. He’s 4-0-1 in Bellator, and while he’s gone into the third round in four of his nine fights, he still often goes for the kill. That said, he’s gone the distance two straight times, and I fear that this will be yet another decision win for Kongo. I hope I’m wrong, but I feel like that’s what will happen. Hopefully that’s not the case though. Prediction: Kongo via decision.
Liam McGeary (12-1) vs. Linton Vassell (17-5, 1 NC)
Initially, this bout was the middle bout, while MVP vs. Derek Anderson was the co-main event. However, due to MVP’s injury, that fight got scrapped, and this is the co-main event now. I must say, it’s a pretty good fight on paper.
McGeary is the former Bellator Light Heavyweight champion. He won the title at Bellator 134 in early 2015 against Emmanuel Newton, and retained it against UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz. He lost the title in a dominant decision loss to former UFC contender Phil Davis last November though, but won his return fight in February against Brett McDermott in a short notice fight. He’s very crafty on the ground, which has helped him garner five decision wins. He also has six knockout wins, making it 11 finished in 12 career wins. He’s 9-1 overall in Bellator, and with a win tonight, he could get a title shot against the winner of last month’s title bout between Phil Davis and Ryan Bader. I wouldn’t favor him against either man, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the resume to get the next shot with a win.
Speaking of title contenders, Linton Vassell has a good case for a title shot as well. The former UCMMA champion is 6-2 in Bellator, with two straight wins. Even though he’s gone the distance in three straight bouts, that doesn’t change the fact that 13 of his previous 15 wins had come via finish, including seven via submission and six via knockout.
This is a tougher fight to predict than one would think. McGeary’s the former champ, has only lost once, is a fearsome finisher, and is rightfully favored. However, Vassell has good wrestling, has only been finished once since 2010, and wants to make a statement in his home country against the fellow Englishman. I see this being a closer and more contentious fight than expected. I’ll still pick McGeary, but don’t be shocked if Vassell takes it the distance, and even pulls off the upset. Prediction: McGeary via decision or late finish.
Rory MacDonald (18-4) vs. Paul Daley (39-14-2)
In the main event of the evening, former UFC Welterweight title challenger, and one of the best Welterweights in the world, Rory MacDonald, will make his Bellator MMA debut. Despite being just 27-years-old, going 9-4 in the UFC, and partaking in one of the greatest fights in MMA history less than two years ago against Robbie Lawler in a fight he was winning until getting finished in the final minutes, Macdonald didn’t get re-signed after his contract ran out in his follow-up decision loss against Stephen Thompson last June. It was a shock for many reasons. Hell, he was less than two minutes away from winning one of the greatest fights ever against Robbie Lawler, in what was a title fight! Alas, here we are, and he’s in Bellator now.
MacDonald still trains mostly out of Tristar and is still GSP’s protege. He has crisp striking and terrific grappling skills, including a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He’s finished 13 of his 18 wins, with seven knockout wins and six additional wins via submission. He holds recent victories over current UFC Welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, current UFC #1 Welterweight contender Demian Maia, former Strikeforce Welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine, the only man to defeat Conor McGregor in the UFC in Nate Diaz, all-time great BJ Penn, and more. All those wins were dominant wins. He hasn’t fought in nearly a year, and his nose is a key issue, but aside from that, he just might be the best Welterweight in the world today.
With a win, MacDonald will get a title shot against the winner of next month’s Bellator Welterweight title fight between champion Douglas Lima and challenger Lorenz Larkin, yet another former UFC contender who’s now in Bellator after the UFC shockingly didn’t re-sign him. However, in order to get the shot, MacDonald has to get past one of the greatest knockout artists in Welterweight MMA history, Paul Daley.
Fighting in his home country, Daley has been fighting since 2003, has 55 fights to his credit, and has knocked out 29 different opponents. He’s fought for a who’s-who of promotions, including a three-fight sting with the UFC in which he won his first two fights via knockout, but got cut after sucker punching Josh Koscheck after their fight. He then split time between Strikeforce and BAMMA, before making his Bellator debut in July 2012 against Rudy Bears. He won that fight via first round knockout, before going back to fight in a bevy of promotions. Since February 2015 though, Daley has made Bellator his permanent home, going 4-1 with the company in that two-year span, including three wins via knockout. The only loss in that time came via decision against current champion Douglas Lima, and with a win tonight, Daley may just get his rematch.
On paper, MacDonald takes this. He may be facing a feared knockout artist, but is younger, has faced better opponents, has a lot less mileage under him, and is better overall. However, there is one key factor that has many feeling weary-his nose. Rory’s nose got shattered in that legendary Robbie Lawler fight, and in his lone fight since, Rory just didn’t look the same. Granted, that was a year ago, and his opponent then, Stephen Thompson, is hard to decipher. However, the nose may hinder the remainder of MacDonald’s career, and it could play a huge role in this fight. Sure, MacDonald can try and implement more of a ground-based attack as a result. He definitely has the skills to get it done, and the fact that it’s a three-round fight does help him here. However, I fear that one shot from Daley to the nose can end this fight. I’ll still pick Rory, and I hope he flourishes, but I’m not as confident as I otherwise would be.
Prediction: MacDonald via decision.